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Applegate Lake speed limit hike request makes waves

Agroup of waterskiers wants state boating officials to lift the 10-mph speed limit on Applegate Lake — opening what they consider to be an untapped recreational resource at an under used reservoir.

But anglers, kayakers and others are prepping to convince the Oregon State Marine Board that opening the 33-year-old reservoir to fast powerboats will ruin the respite it offers from personal watercraft and fast boats common at places such as Emigrant Lake and Lost Creek Reservoir.

The Marine Board will come to Medford on Monday, Dec. 16, to take public comment on the petition, which would prohibit motorboats in the Hart-Tish Park swim area and create four no-wake zones around popular swimming and fishing areas.

The petitioners say upping the speed limits would increase use of the lake's boating facilities, create more use of the waterway, decrease congestion at other area lakes and promote Applegate Valley businesses.

"We've wanted to use that lake to ski on forever," says Kerry Reich, whose Applegate Valley family petitioned the Marine Board for the change. "We literally have to go to California for skiing.

"It's useless as it is now," Reich adds. "It's almost a sin."

But one man's sin is another's virtue.

Many of the anglers, kayakers and others who visit the lake say the speed cap provides relief from zipping speedboats and personal watercraft.

Tournament bass angler Colby Pearson says the lake's bass and trout fishing opportunities would be diminished by speeding waterskiers and personal watercraft.

"Applegate is my favorite local lake, and it rivals some of the best fisheries in the country in terms of both bass and trout fishing," says Pearson, 19, of Central Point. "It has a standard of fishing excellence, and it would really hurt to see that diminish.

"I have a boat that can go well over 60 miles per hour and I love to use it, but I am still against the proposal of lifting the speed regulations," Pearson says.

The full Marine Board is scheduled to consider the proposal at its Jan. 9 meeting in Portland.

The reservoir in southwest Jackson County was created by the damming of the Applegate River just north of the Oregon/California border. It has had a 10-mph restriction — a rarity in Oregon for a lake that covers almost 900 acres when full — since it filled in 1980.

The Forest Service oversees recreation at the reservoir, and recreation technician John McKelligott said he has heard users laud the waters as much for what is there as for what is not.

"It's a special recreational niche we'd like to hang on to," McKelligott says.

When speed-limit changes were vetted in the past, concerns were aired about increased erosion on the reservoir's steep bank, which has more exposed soil than rock, McKelligott says.

"Even wind waves can put a lot of sediment into the lake," he says.

In documents provided to the Marine Board in support of the petition, chief petitioner Jordan Reich says that erosion problems at the lake have not been documented and concerns over it should not impede a speed change.

The proposal includes 5-mph no-wake zones around Harr Point Campground, the French Gulch boat ramp, the cove area around Carberry Campground and the Seattle Bar area popular among swimmers and waders when the reservoir level is high.

"It's not like we want to hog the lake," Reich says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.